Ben Kuroki, the only Japanese-American to have flown combat missions over Japan, has died at his Camarillo, California home. He was 98.
Kuroki, born on a Nebraska farm to Japanese-born parents, had a well-traveled war. A gunner on bombers, he flew dozens of missions in North Africa and Europe, including over the strategically important and fiercely defended Ploesti oil fields in Romania. Sergeant Kuroki later flew 28 missions on B-29s out of a base on Tinian Island in the Pacific. This last required a letter of approval from Secretary of War Henry Stimson, as Americans of Japanese heritage were not assigned to the Pacific Theater then.
Kuroki’s motivation for his Pacific service was totally patriotic. He needn’t have flown them, as servicemen who had survived 25 bombing missions were excused from further combat duty. But he almost didn’t get to serve at all. The first recruiter he visited in Nebraska questioned his loyalty and refused to enlist him. Persistent as well as patriotic, Ben and his brother Fred drove 150 miles to another recruiter who signed them up.
Kuroki was accepted by his crewmates, who nicknamed him “Most Honorable Son.” But there were some ugly moments. One solider refused to share a cab with him, and a drunken soldier in the barracks called Kuroki a “damned Jap” and cut him with a knife, leading to a wound that took 24 stiches to close.
After the war, Kuroki earned a degree in journalism on the G.I. Bill from the University of Nebraska and spent most of his working career on small newspapers in Nebraska, Michigan, and California.
Kuroki died September 2, 70 years to the day after Japan formally surrendered to the allies aboard the U.S.S. Missouri in Tokyo Bay.
RIP Sergeant Kuroki. Thank you for your service. And for your patriotism. You did more than you had to.